Five issues Sunderland must address during Dubai training camp

Billy Jones is a doubt for tomorrow
Billy Jones is a doubt for tomorrow

Sunderland’s enforced break from competitive action presented boss Sam Allardyce with the perfect opportunity to take his first team on a mid-season training camp.

The players are currently in Dubai - were temperatures are a positively barmy 24C - but the week-long stay is no jolly for the Sunderland squad.

Vito Mannone

Vito Mannone

No, they are being put through their paces by Allardyce and his coaching staff in the warm weather as they bid to maintain their new-found momentum as they battle against the drop.

We take a look at five issues facing Allardyce during the break:

Chance to further strengthen team spirit:

First and foremost, the week is a chance for the Sunderland squad to take a well-earned breather after a hectic few weeks following the festive period and a busy January.

Allardyce is experienced enough to know Sunderland’s vulnerability in the opening stages of games remains a problem.

Richard Mennear

The transfer window proved a really positive one for the club, with several unwanted fringe players moved on.

That freed up enough funds to bring in Jan Kirchhoff, Lamine Kone, Wahbi Khazri and Dame N’Doye, along with veteran keeper Steve Harper.

The foreign imports have made an immediate impression and settled in quickly to life in the Premier League.

And while the late comeback against Liverpool and late victory over Manchester United prove the spirit is high in the squad, a week together will further boost team spirit ahead of the run-in.

Formulate a plan to start keeping clean sheets:

Sunderland’s run of 12 games without a clean sheet is a miserable statistic and it is the longest run in the Premier League.

That needs to come to an end quickly if the Black Cats are to retain their top flight status.

Scoring hasn’t been a problem this campaign, with top scorer Jermain Defoe contributing 10 goals.

But conceding goals only cranks up the pressure on the forward players to produce every week.

With Kone and Kirchhoff boosting the defensive ranks, Allardyce will be using this week to tighten up at the back.

Look to make the right flank as strong as the left:

The turn around in Patrick van Aanholt’s form has been a major plus of the Allardyce era.

And the introduction of £9million Khazri to the left-hand side of the front three has given that area of the pitch a major shot in the arm.

The pair have forged a quick understanding with Khazri more than willing to track back and help out defensively, while the Dutch left-back needs no encouragement to bomb forward and add support up front.

The task facing Allardyce is to try and make the right-hand flank as strong.

DeAndre Yedlin impressed against Manchester United and offers more balance and attacking threat than Billy Jones at full-back.

Meanwhile, striker N’Doye has been deployed wide right since making his debut and while it is not his natural position, he showed signs of improvement in the second half of the Manchester United win.

A working progress.

Slow starts can’t continue:

Sunderland have the worst record in the Premier League when it comes to conceding goals within the opening 15 minutes of matches - shipping nine goals in that period.

Recently, AFC Bournemouth scored after just 13 minutes, Manchester City scored after 16. It cost Sunderland precious points.

They showed far more resilience against Liverpool - were they withstood a lot of first-half pressure - while the Black Cats were the early scorers against United, Khazri scoring after just three minutes.

But Allardyce is experienced enough to know Sunderland’s vulnerability in the opening stages of games remains a problem.

And finally, work out a plan to stop Dimitri Payet:

Sunderland resume their league campaign a week on Saturday when they travel to West Ham United.

And in order to come away with a result they are going to have to do what most teams have struggled to do this season - stop Dimitri Payet from running the show.

If Sunderland can get Kirchhoff back fit from his hamstring injury to play in the holding midfield role, that would be a major boost.

But Payet is a free spirit and Sunderland will be looking to nullify his threat on the training pitches of Dubai.